Moving past plastic: recycling bin

At left: I analyzed my home recycling bin. Three quarters of it was plastic, and at least three quarters of that were types of plastic that are not actually recycled. At right: This is my grocery cart on a typical shopping trip since choosing to reduce SUP. Not perfect, but it has gotten much better.

Editor’s Note: This is a column on area watersheds by Blyden Potts and guest columnists to spread awareness of the area’s tributaries and the efforts of area volunteers to keep them clean.

I founded Move Past Plastic ( to help communities become aware of issues with plastics, especially single-use plastics (SUP), the kind we most need to avoid, which make up half of all plastic.

Because SUP is ubiquitous and alternatives are scarce, we should address SUP at the systemic level. Raising awareness that encourages people to change their behavior is important but insufficient. We must mobilize speaking to legislators, manufacturers, and municipalities, to implement single-use bag reduction, bottle bills, extended producer bills, right-to-repair laws, and other concepts outlined in the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021. We can also write letters to editors or publish advocacy pieces.

The goal may seem overwhelming and out of reach. You may need more time, energy, or knowledge before beginning. Most of us feel we have too much on our plate already. These are valid concerns. Begin your journey in your way at your own pace. Become a curious child. Seek out a little daily

information about the harms of SUP.

Find out what plans your municipality has for reducing SUP. Let them know you favor bag reduction and similar ordinances. If you are not on board with such policies, be open to learning more about them and why they are important. Learn more about health harms and support legislation that addresses them. Purchase alternatives if you can afford them. Better alternatives are being created, but be alert about “recyclable” products. Technically all plastic film is “recyclable,” but it is not collected and recycled. Currently, only 5-6 percent of plastic is recycled. Plastic can only be upcycled (turned back into the original product) a few times. Most “recycled” plastic is down-cycled, i.e., turned into a different product, such as a park bench or carpet. Incineration and forms of chemical recycling are not “recycling.” “Compostable” and “biodegradable” products often carry the

same problems as SUP. They don’t break down in backyard composting and have the same harmful chemicals.

We must live like our grandparents did before we were taught to throw away things to make our lives more convenient. We need to re-educate ourselves and make old habits new again. Understanding the harms of SUP can motivate us to move from a disposable lifestyle to a regenerative one.

We can begin with the Six Rs.

Refuse. Avoid single-use plastic bags, bottled water, drink cups, lids, and straws unless you need them.

When you cannot do without, try to find an alternative.

Reduce. Find ways to use fewer plastic items. Buy in bulk and not individual packaging. Buy fresh and local. Look for products not wrapped in or made of plastic. When looking for alternative packaging or biodegradable or compostable products, look for ASTM D6400 certification.

Reuse/Repair. Acquire reusable store bags, reusable straws, and at least one reusable water bottle. If you find yourself with a SUP item, reuse it.

Repurpose. When an item no longer serves its original purpose, can it be put to another use? Old clothing can become a reusable bag or entry carpet. Regift items to friends, family, or neighbors. Bring or list unwanted clothes, tools, furniture, toys, and other home items on an exchange, free donation site.

Recycle. Recycled items are a commodity. Only plastic resins 1 and 2 in the shape of a clear bottle are typically recycled. Because of this, let recycling be your last option. Don’t contaminate the “recycling” with non-recyclable items when you recycle. Don’t let single-use plastic overwhelm you. Try and learn about it or take one action a week. Make it a

fun challenge.


Tamela Trussell is founder of Move Past Plastic ( a grassroots organization

created to help make PA communities aware of the complexities of single use plastics (SUP), promote SUP alternatives, decrease consumption and waste, and move toward a regenerative economy, through education and advocacy for legislation and municipal ordinances.

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